Why Companies Need to Protect Themselves Against the Risks of Social Media
The use of social media and networking sites both inside and outside the workplace is widespread. Maintenance of employees’ rights to privacy and an employer’s own expectations regarding worker conduct and the safeguarding of a company’s business interests and reputation requires a balanced approach and careful management.
Employers are increasingly recognising the marketing dividends of social media and networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
However, from a legal point of view, issues such as breach of anti-discrimination provisions (for which the employer may be held responsible), defamatory or damaging publications, including inadvertent disclosure of company confidential information, and the cost to the business of working time lost to social media are very real concerns.
The extent to which employees’ online activities are monitored during company time should ideally be clearly set out in an IT/social media policy, laying down the expected standards in terms of reasonable usage during working time, and employees should be informed, and consent obtained.
There has already been a steady stream of cases where damage to an employer’s reputation has occurred as a consequence of employees’ use of social media. For example, Virgin Atlantic took action against staff who criticised on Facebook its passenger class status, which was widely reported in the media.
In order to avoid liability, an employer must demonstrate that an employee who is allegedly responsible for bullying or harassment through social media channels, did so outside “the course of their employment” and that it took reasonable measures to prevent such an employee from committing the acts in question.
There are no rigid guidelines on the necessary level of preventive action, but a written social media policy and guidelines that is actively implemented will serve as a useful starting point in this regard.
We are seeing firms increasingly taking this first step of drafting policies and guidelines and educating and enabling their staff to interact more effectively online. If you would like assistance with this, let us know.